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From a psychological perspective, Carl Jung explained in his analytical theory that all humans share a “collective unconscious” through which we are provided with archetypal notions and concepts of the world, one of the most dominant being, God or a Supreme Being (Rathus 404). It is through socialization that these archetypes are fostered. Pi having grown up in India, was provided with a rich texture of religions to choose from, and rather than choosing one, decided to choose all three religions predominantly practiced in his country.
Being born in India a principally Hindu nation, it seems logical that Pi’s appreciation for religion would be formulated in the Hindu Temple. “I became loyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what they meant or what they were for. It is my heart that commands me so. I feel at home in a Hindu temple” (Martel 52; ch.16).
Hinduism set the groundwork for Pi’s religious journey, with the principles of a ‘Universal Reality’, of the transition of one’s karma from one life to the next, and the Supreme Energy being manifest in various avatars and deities. It is this eclectic suggestion of God’s manifestations that creates a sense of openness in Pi in seeking the commonalities among other religions, suggesting in his notion that Lord Krishna himself led him to Christianity (55).
Through Christianity, Pi became aware of the humility of God that in all his Holiness He would allow His ‘avatar’ to die for us mere humans for the sake of love. Pi was now able to understand the concept of God’s love for humanity. “I offered thanks to Christ who was alive. Then I raced down the hill on the left and raced up the hill on the right – to offer thanks to Lord Krishna for having put Jesus of Nazereth, whose humanity I found so compelling, in my way.
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The zenith of Pi’s religious journey occurs when he encounters Islam, which the fundamentals of both Hinduism and Christianity are reinforced, with an added sense of devotion and brotherhood (67). Without the adult concept of exclusivity, Pi though questioned by his parents was supported in his quest for spiritual enrichment. Without this support, his youthful fascination with religion would have possibly ended then, in his youth, and not have continued through the desperate times ahead leading through to his adulthood.
While being lost at sea, Pi was able to not only find comfort and solace in his religious practices, but thought of it as a means to survival. “... I turned to God. I survived” (345) said Pi who adapted religious rituals to suit the circumstances, which brought him comfort. “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love” (231). Such Faith leads one to a “better story” (70). It is Pi’s opening up to Faith and a letting go or ignorance of the adult notions of exclusivity which permit him to trust and love God when at sea. To trust and love when one feels the most alone, realizing one’s smallness yet receiving “spiritual guidance” from the stars (214). It was his ability to hold on to his faith in a Greater Power that enabled him to survive his time at sea.
Martel’s choice of name for his lead character; Pi, is most certainly intentional. As explained, “and so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge” (27). In choosing the name Pi, Martel enables the reader to find a connection with the character despite his cultural background and religious practices. The symbol Pi holds the same meaning in all languages when spoken in the mathematical vernacular, and suggests that this story, even with its fantastical elements can be shared by all.
Are we not all floating on a sea of uncertainty, unaware of the next impending storm of obstacles, queasy with sea-sickness when the horizon of our future illudes us. Pi’s story is a metaphor for life, one in which we devise ways and means to cope with what is dished out when we are removed from the comforts of our ‘normal’ lives. Having faith in something greater than oneself, makes for a “better story”.
Karen Armstrong explains that Mystical Religion, in which one discovers and nurtures their relationship with a personal God “is more immediate and tends to be more help in time of trouble than a predominantly cerebral faith” (212).
It is in moments of spiritual serendipity, when one finds faith in the ‘happy accidents’ of life that one is able to truly see the world and themselves, as Richard Eyre explains “Serendipity of the spirit requires shifts in our paradigm. It suggests a new way of looking at ourselves, our world and our relationship with the Being who made both” (41).
Though Pi’s story holds tragic elements it was the happy accidents of spiritual serendipity that maintained his openness and willingness to let go and discover his own religious path. A path which did not lead him to tragedy, but one which guided him along his journey, just as the stars did, enabling him to trust and love even in the face of utter adversity.
Armstrong, Karen A History of God. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993
Eyre, Richard Spiritual Serendipity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997
Martel, Yann Life of Pi. Canada: Vintage Canada, 2002
Rathus, Spencer Psychology Concepts & Connections. Belmont: Thompson Wadsworth